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Analysis of the First Republican Presidential Debate. Aired 7:45-8:10p ET

Aired September 16, 2015 - 19:45   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[19:47:30]

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Jake, thanks very much. The first debate in the books. The main event just moments away. Thanks for joining us. The first four candidates still on stage posing for pictures. Rick Santorum, George Pataki, Bobby Jindal and Lindsey Graham, all trying to stand out tonight and get some traction with GOP voters. They and their surrogates will then be making their case here in the spin room, all around me. Wolf Blitzer is in the debate hall, we'll be checking in with him very shortly, and very shortly we're going to be seeing all of the 11 candidates, presidential candidates from the next debate coming out on the stage so that all 15 candidates will be together on that stage for the first time posing for pictures. Front-runners Donald Trump and Dr. Ben Carson, of course, newcomer on the main stage for the first time, Carly Fiorina, all of that just ahead.

Let's go first to our panelists here, John King, host of "Inside Politics," chief political analyst Gloria Borger, senior political reporter Nia-Malika Henderson and Michael Smerconish, host of CNN's "Smerconish." I want to talk about what we have seen and heard, and also what to expect in the big debate just minutes away? John King, what did you think of what you heard tonight? Did anyone break out of this lower tier?

JOHN KING, HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: It's a fascinating question. Everyone did what they wanted to do coming in. The question is, can they change their poll numbers? Lindsey Graham, every question you asked him, if you asked him about the sunrise or sunset, he said we're in a war against radical Islam, I am the guy with the experience and training to win a war we cannot afford to lose. He turned every question to that. That is his beat in this campaign. I do think he did effectively nudge some of the other candidates with him in this earlier debate. We'll see how it comes out in the later debate, but the front-runner class more toward, more boots on the ground. Lindsey Graham was pushing the other candidates. And they had to say we're open to this. Pataki was the one (inaudible).

The most interesting to me, Rick Santorum opened and closed by mentioning his leading role in fighting partial birth abortion. Why is he doing that? At a presidential debate? Because he won Iowa last time, and he's nowhere right now. He's got Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz in his evangelical lane, and he realizes that his campaign, this is a survival question right now. All four of these candidates have survival questions as we're watching this first debate, and it struck me that he understands the math. He's trying to go back to his people in Iowa last time and say, why abandon me now? I need you.

COOPER: There you see the candidates. There you see former governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, talking to Rick Santorum as the four candidates mill around. And we're going to see again the 11 candidates that will be coming out onto this stage and posing for a picture for the first time. All of the candidates for the GOP nomination together on the stage. Gloria, do you think anybody broke out?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think Lindsey Graham did exactly what he wanted to do, which was not only be on message about ISIS and a more muscular foreign policy for the Republican Party, but also he was the person who was trying to walk the fine line I thought between the base of the Republican Party and the establishment of the Republican Party, which is exactly what we're going to see Jeb Bush try and do later.

[19:50:00]

He did it with humor, and he did it from a position of experience, talking about his experience, and he also managed to ding Donald Trump as a character from a cartoon network. Bobby Jindal, I will also add moving through those evangelical voters that John was talking about, and I think he made a very persuasive case on religious liberty.

COOPER: And while some of the candidates are still in that debate hall, Bobby Jindal seems to be, I think, here in the spin room already. There is now a scrum around Bobby Jindal, clearly trying to make the case to the media, trying to get as much attention as he can in these precious moments between debates.

BORGER: Not only social conservatives but positioning himself as anti-establishment, as well. That's important to Jindal if he's going to break out in any way.

KING: One quick point, we see former Governor Schwarzenegger in there. He is a remainder that we should learn our lesson and learn the lesson of Trump, too. This has happened before in some ways. Maybe not to this degree, but remember when Arnold Schwarzenegger ran in the recall election against Gray Davis in this state and everybody laughed? Everybody said, come on, this guy is an actor, this guy can't do this. He was elected, and -- because people were in such a mood, that they were willing to throw out the rule book and through out a playbook and elect a guy who didn't have a lot of policy ideas. He said we got to get rid of the guy who's in there, and then when I get there, I'll figure it out. But he talked like a leader, not a direct comparison between he and Trump, but we have seen this in the past that in a remarkable mood like this --

COOPER: The other thing they share now is he's going to be hosting "Celebrity Apprentice."

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: I want to check in with New Day's Alisyn Camerota, who is on the debate stage. Alisyn, what's the scene there?

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Anderson, I was just talking to Mary Beth Christie, Governor Christie's wife here, she was just watching the debate, and everybody, I have to tell you, I was looking at the people's faces as the debate was on. They were riveted. People were really paying rapt attention. Right now they are stretching their legs, they are looking forward to the next one, but I just ran into Michael Reagan, the son of course of former President Reagan, and he was effusive. He just was so excited. He thought this debate was terrific and he said he thought Lindsey Graham was on fire, and of course he was referring to Lindsey Graham having made a lot of laugh lines, particularly the one about Strom Thurmond having had four kids after the age of 67, and unless everyone wants to do that, it's time he said to get some more legal immigration. So everybody laughed here. This was a good one.

The hall is smaller than the first debate. This is just 500 people. So it was quieter at first. People were very respectful for a while, you could hear a pin drop, but then when the candidates took to the podium, people really loosened up, and they laughed, they applauded. There was a smattering of responses to some of their bigger policy issues. And you know what was interesting, and maybe I can show you, Anderson, I mean, it's that, how close it is. How close the podiums are to the front row of where everyone was sitting. That made for a very, very intimate setting, as it will for the next debate, as well. So I'll send it back to you guys right now. We'll be watching, Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Alisyn, thanks very much. With us here inside this debate hall, our panel of CNN political commentators, the former Obama advisor, Van Jones, the former Reagan White House political director, Jeffrey Lord, also joining us the conservative columnist, S.E. Cupp and Republican strategist Kevin Madden. Kevin, how did this preliminary debate set the stage for the main event which is about to begin?

KEVIN MADDEN, GOP STRATEGIST: I think the news coming out of this debate was Lindsey Graham on national security. I think that will set a policy discussion up for many of the other candidates and questions about what we've done on national security with Iraq, and also what we're going to do to take on some of these threats we're facing now with ISIL and some of the unrest in Syria. So Lindsey Graham came out of this as the big debate winner in that sense, and I think he will also shape the tone for the debate later one.

BLITZER: The attacks on Donald Trump, they were pretty ferocious in the first few minutes. Will he have to respond when it's his turn coming up?

S.E. CUPP, CONSERVATIVE COLUMNIST: I wouldn't put it past him to take his time to respond to something Bobby Jindal said about him in the beginning. That's very much in keeping with Trump's personality. I don't know what kind of Trump we'll see tonight. I've heard indications he may be a little bit softer. I don't know that side of him, personally. So we'll see. But I think it was interesting that Rick Santorum in particular said, you know, I'm not go to go after Donald Trump personally. Every time you attack a Republican, Hillary Clinton wins. At least one person is not taking the bait.

[19:55:00]

MADDEN: And real quick, the format favored substance here. So that's going to be difficult for Donald Trump. He has not been known as the substance candidate in this race right now, but allowing two candidates to go back and forth on the substance of big issues, whether it's the economy, national security, or values issues, that will be something interesting to watch.

BLITZER: You like Donald Trump and you want him to do well, but he has got a lot at stake right now. People are going to be watching in huge, huge numbers as he would like to say, Donald Trump, and the challenge will be to see if he lives up to the hype.

JEFFREY LORD, TRUMP SUPPORTER: I'm sure that he will. One of the things about Donald Trump that I would disagree with Kevin on, talking about Lindsey Graham as the winner in this, first, at the very end, Lindsey Graham said why he would refuse to defend Obamacare because President Obama would surely veto the bill. Right there, is the kind of disagreement between the establishment and the base of the Republican Party. It's the thing that's fueling Donald Trump, who has this can-do image, that's the kind of defeatist image that is driving the base of this party absolutely crazy. President Reagan very quickly vetoed a clean water bill in 1987 knowing he was going to be overturned by both houses of Congress with the Democrats, asked Republicans to help. He got only 26 votes in the House, later wrote in his diary, we need to draw lines here to divide the parties, and they weren't willing to do it, and that's the problem here.

BLITZER: Van, you're a Democrat, you worked for President Obama. There was a lot of criticism of President Obama and Hillary Clinton to put it mildly, but a lot more criticism of some fellow Republicans, conservative Republicans, the leadership of the House and Senate.

VAN JONES, CNN COMMENTATOR: You would have expected they would come out here, they might beat up Trump a bit, they would go after President Obama, they would go after Hillary Clinton, it would be a blood bath for them. They barely nicked the president and they barely nicked Trump. You heard more attacks on congressional Republicans. Jindal said he is more angry with the congressional Republicans than the president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That was most of the surprising lines of the debate, you're right.

JONES: So you have a party now that is in some ways self- cannibalizing. But there are real issues dividing this party. There were more attacks on congressional Republicans than on Hillary Clinton tonight. That was surprising.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Mitch McConnell and John Boehner were not necessarily all that happy with what they heard. Guys, stand by, Anderson and I will step away for 60 seconds. When we come back, we expect all 15 of these Republican presidential candidates will make their way to the stage together for a group photo session, and then get ready, the main event.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: And welcome back. We're now just about 11 minutes or so away from the main event, the candidates just seconds away from a group photo shot on stage. Let's go to our Sara Murray now, who is standing by.

SARA MURRAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Any moment now, the candidates will walk out of the door behind me and head over to the debate stage. Right now they are all in this room together. It's kind of the calm before the storm, right, making a little slightly awkward small talk before they go out and take each other on on the debate stage, and that's exactly what we're hearing a number of these candidates want to do. People like Jeb Bush, people like Scott Walker, their sights are set on being more aggressive this time, and of course Donald Trump will be right in the middle of that stage.

Now we saw Trump walk into the building a while ago. He walked in with Chris Christie and they were giving each other a half hug and kind of slapping each other on the back. So for now, it seems everyone is getting along. You can see they are coming out behind me now.

COOPER: Sara, thanks very much. You can see those candidates leaving. I should point out also Lindsey Graham and Bobby Jindal are still here in the spin room, which is very close by to the debate stage. Whether or not they actually will join in in this photo op or they think it's more important to try to reach out to all the people from social media and various networks who are here and try to get some free press coverage instead of waiting for this photo, we shall see.

[20:00:00]

While we're watching those 11 candidates for the next debate heading to the stage, there you see Dr. Ben Carson, of course. We, there is Carly Fiorina. She's the only person to have graduated from the second tier debate last time around to the main stage. There is John Kasich and there is, of course, Donald Trump.

We're back again with John King, Gloria Borger, Nia-Malika Henderson and Michael Smerconish.

Nia, in terms of what you anticipate. How aggressive do you see some candidates tonight going after Donald Trump?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: I think in some ways, they box themselves into a corner already because they have been so aggressive with Donald Trump. They have done it on Instagram. They have done in interviews. So in some ways, if they don't come into this debate ready to bring the same kind of fire and punch to what they say to Donald Trump, it will be almost like, you know, the thrown rocks and hid in their hands. We saw in the debate last round with Tim Pawlenty. He was unable to sort of bring the fight to Mitt Romney when it came time got to do that on the debate stage.

So I think they got to do it. I think Jeb Bush has got to bring the fire a bit, but he is also got to be careful because it's not really in keeping with his personality, that kind of thing on a stage like this.

COOPER: Michael, it's very clear that Jake Tapper, Hugh Hewitt, Dana Bash are trying to get the candidates to point out their differences to each other and have actual discussions, policy discussions, specific discussions. Is that something that Donald Trump has done before? He certainly didn't see that much in the first debate.

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST, SMERCONISH SHOW: No, we didn't. And it's an entirely different venue. It has an entirely different vibe. I said, Anderson, to you before the debate, I think I rather be one of the four in the first debate than someone on the peripheral stage in the main event. And it was proven I think by the amount of substance that came out of each one of those four candidates, we can only help that the next 11 will be given that opportunity.

One of their observation, if I might, there is the (INAUDIBLE) in the party between mavericks and establishment crowd. I believe for what it's worth that this is an establishment crowd audience. I noted that George Pataki received applause when he said he would fire Kim Davis and that he stood behind the rule of law. This is not an evangelical dominated crowd. If I were one of the 11, I would pay attention to that, back stage in my trailer and know how to react.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: But you know, still the basis of Republican Party and saw Bobby Jindal attacks congressional Republicans, by the way, by names, they are thrilled because the base of the party is so upset with congressional Republicans that they don't want to nominate one. And they want to go for an outsider.

I would also say, if I were Jeb Bush, and I were watching Lindsey Graham, I would say, you know, that's a pretty good template for the way I need to approach my debate coming up because I think Lindsey Graham navigated establishment in the base --.

COOPER: He also came off in a very sort of human way. I mean, he made a lot of jokes. He was able to tell his own personal story, which some other candidates really weren't.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And yet, he's the guy whose home state is third on the nominating calendar and he is nowhere.

COOPER: Right.

KING: Because he can't even rally his own state. The Republican Party is fractured into a number of pieces and Michael state in this very smartly. We usually look for outsiders versus establishment. We have insurgents. We have Carson and Trump and Fiorina who are insurgents in the Republican Party, never held political office. They want to be different. They are challenging orthodox in the party in many ways. Then you have the establishment candidates, the governing conservatives, the Kasichs, the Bush, Lindsey Graham. (INAUDIBLE).

We have to work with Democrats and then you have the outsiders who are saying, you know, almost level Washington. You know, we have elected Boehner and McConnell. Never mind Obama. We have won. The Republicans have won everything but the presidency in the last seven years. And yet, their voters are furious because they think what did we get for that? Why have we won all these governor races? Why have we won these state legislates? Why have we put Mitch McConnell and John Boehner and charging expanded on majority and we got nothing?

HENDERSON: Yes. And Jindal I think hit on that point most notable and forcefully. He at one point essentially said we should throw out the Republican Party and start over if they can't get things done in Washington. And Lindsey Graham sort stepped in and said, listen, I'm not going to be the type of person to sort of tell people what they want to hear, Bobby, you know, if you try to run for president --

COOPER: It is a very difficult road ahead for Jeb Bush. I mean, they are releasing some 25 million or so -- let's take a look at the candidates.

(APPLAUSE)

COOPER: Let's see if all 15 of them are, in fact, on that stage. Let's listen in.

(APPLAUSE)

COOPER: Bobby Jindal is still actually here in the spin room so seems like he decided to skip this photo. Try to get some extra press coverage.

All the candidates will pose for photos and the second tier candidates who had been polling the lows who just debated they will be leaving the stage and the 11 candidates who will be debating.

But again, for Jeb Bush, John King, as we look at this, we look at the photographers assembled, it's a very difficult road ahead. I mean, he is nowhere near where he thought he would be single digits in many of these polls. What does he need to do?

KING: He's the Republican Party. He is $100 million man. He was the spring front runner. His declared challenge, he is very honest with (INAUDIBLE). I'm going to convince the base of my party, at lease enough of them, they are wrong on immigration. They are wrong on common core education then. He thought he would have the debate with the likes of Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum. He's having that debate with a tornado like Donald Trump and he's not found his footing. The question is tonight, can he make the governing case to the Republican base that isn't interested in governing right now. They are interest in disruption.

SMERCONISH: Even if Trump stumbles, I don't think it's to Jeb's advantage. I think it Ben Carson's advantage. I think it is Carly Fiorina's advantage.

COOPER: I want to go to Wolf Blitzer who is in the hall with our CNN political commentators - Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST, THE SITUATION ROOM: Thanks, Anderson.

You know, Kevin Madden, the fact that Donald Trump is center stage, he's leading. He is the Republican presidential front runner. He is leading in all the national polls among Republicans. He is leading in all the key states whether Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina. Now, you go on and on and on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, symbolic of this campaign.

BLITZER: And the fact he's center stage is a major statement, as far as Donald Trump is concerned.

KEVIN MADDEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: It is and that's his strength is throughout this whole entire campaign he's the one setting the tone and tempo. All the other candidates react to him. We'll see if this debate placement is similar to that.

BLITZER: You see Dr. Ben Carson is to his right. Jeb Bush to the left. They are also center stage because they are second and third in effect in most of the national polls -- S.E.

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. All three of them, I think, are going to get a lot of attention tonight along with Carly Fiorina. I put the four of them sort of smack in the middle of most of the scrutiny.

Carly has to have a very good night after really clawing her way onto the main stage. Donald Trump, of course, all eyes on him and Jeb Bush has to have a good night and show that he's got the fire in the belly. And Ben Carson being at second place right now, a lot more scrutiny than he's ever gotten before. That's for sure.

BLITZER: Jeffrey, it's do or die for some of these guys up there.

JEFFREY LORD, FORMER REAGAN WHITE HOUSE POLITICAL DIRECTOR: I was going to say, Wolf, it is not just that they have to have a good night, if they don't have a good night, which is likely here in terms of a number of them, their donor base is going to start to drain away from them and they are going to have a problem raising money to stay in the game.

BLITZER: Money is critical now. Just ask the former Texas three-term governor Rick Perry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Well, if you said a year ago that a Rick Perry wouldn't survive and Donald Trump would dominating this way, you couldn't possibly believe it but here we are.

BLITZER: They all have a notebook little piece of paper there at the lectors there. They got water. They got a pen, and no other props.

Anderson, this is going to be clearly a very historic important moment. Thanks to our panel.

The candidates, they are getting ready. They are all in their places. The debate begins in 90 seconds right after this.

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